SPECIAL- Unrivaled horror: Tech's tragedy unfolds at Rivals
On a normal Monday afternoon at Rivals, the theme restaurant on Rio Road that celebrates the contentious history between Virginia and Virginia Tech, customers take sides at the bar to trade jokes and insults. But April 16 was not a normal Monday.
People watched uneasily as a TV positioned between the two schools' flags reported news of the horror unfolding in Blacksburg at a place where Virginia and Virginia Tech decor splits the the bar.
"It's been solemn here," said bartender Alison Murphy. "It kinda reminds me of 9/11... the same solemn concern."
Indeed, as the number of dead continued to rise, lunch-time customers were quiet but clearly dismayed. However, when the Hook asked several people how they felt about the news, many expressed frustration and anger.
"Twenty-two kids die because you don't shut down the school?" said Brad Van Lear, a lifelong Charlottesville resident who has a daughter at VCU. "How could you not stop classes and shut down the school? It's idiotic, and it doesn't make sense. I'd love to hear the school's explanation to parents of students who were killed in the second wave of shootings."
Van Lear was especially frustrated that Tech officials didn't react sooner, given the fact that they had dealt with a shooter on campus only last summer. On August 21 last year, Tech officials canceled classes and advised students to stay in their rooms as police tracked down William Morva, an escapee from the Montgomery County Jail who was a homicide suspect believed to be armed and dangerous. Blacksburg police captured Morva– who was indeed armed. And although he is charged with killing a police officer and a security guard, no students were injured.
"I'm appalled by the fact that they had a recent history with this and didn't react better," says Van Lear. "Hello! What did they do for two hours?"
Indeed, the first shootings took place in a dorm around 7:15am, and the second assault began two hours later on the other side of campus.
Musician Kevin Murphy had a more philosophical reaction, seeing the event as yet another sign that society has gone haywire.
"I've been on the road since I was 16," said Murphy, who used to be the drummer for rock group Earth to Andy and now plays for Tonic. "I'm all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and I've stayed pretty liberal over the years. But I think technology is taking the place of rational thought. Everything moves so fast, and nobody takes time to think things through."
Although no one could call the rocker a prude, Murphy worries about the way society– and youth culture in particular– has embraced the violent gangsta mentality. For a few moments, Murphy, Van Lear, and several other customers discussed the gunfight that took place last Thursday night in the parking lot behind the Satellite Ballroom, where witnesses described bullets flying everywhere.
"And it's not about race," Murphy said. "Everyone is embracing this gangsta mentality. It's all about getting attention, about shock value. It used to be you could piss off your parents by wearing the wrong clothes or using some bad language, but now everything on the planet is de-sensitized by everything."
Indeed, Van Lear agreed. "I grew up in Charlottesville in the 1950s, and it was a big deal if there was even one murder in the area," he said. "Is it the population growth? Maybe, but I don't think so. Attitudes have changed. Something has changed."
The small crowd grew quiet again as more news about the shooting was reported, and the death toll continued to climb. Patrons shook their heads slowly, trying to make sense of the madness. Although the right side of the bar is dedicated to Tech, and the left to Virginia, on Monday, everyone gathered at the center of the bar.
"As a mom, I'm telling you," says Murphy. "Home schooling is looking better and better all the time."
Customers at Rivals– the theme restaurant on Rio Road that celebrates the celebrated Tech-Virginia rivalry– watch Monday's events unfold in Blacksburg.
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR